Fashion designer Carl Jan Cruz: ‘Productivity isn’t a word that motivates me’

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The internationally acclaimed fashion designer Carl Jan Cruz talks about how his sense of smell brings expands his mind and why he's cooking more and more these days. Photo by ERIC BICO

Rituals is an interview series which highlights the different ways of boosting productivity.

Rizal (CNN Philippines Life) — Local businesses continue to struggle to cope in the world’s longest lockdown. As the Philippine government limits mobility and non-essential work to minimize COVID-19 transmissions, business owners are faced with the challenge of sustaining operations while income opportunities remain limited.

Survival has never been more necessary in these trying times. For fashion designer Carl Jan Cruz, this means making difficult decisions to minimize the lockdown’s impact on his business. This means permanently shuttering his namesake brand’s physical showroom in Taguig. In a post on the brand’s Instagram page, Cruz reminisces over the brand’s five-year stay in the multipurpose space, and shares that despite closing their doors, “the brand remains alive and well.”

Since graduating from the London College of Fashion and working under Phoebe Philo as an intern in Céline, Cruz’s work has received local and international acclaim. i-D Magazine calls Cruz one of Philippine fashion’s “leading lights.” New York-based, cult-favorite boutique Maryam Nassir Zadeh is one of Cruz’s international stockists. His work has also been covered by high fashion magazines such as Vogue U.S., Vogue Italia, i-D, Dansk, and 10.

In a separate interview Cruz says that the brand is still in the process of adapting to their new realities. “It’s a lot of a lot of embracing the idea of failure more than ever and being able to move on and just give it our all," he says. "It’s a time when no exact book, story, experience can tell us what’s right or wrong, but we tend to make sure: no regrets.”

Like many other local businesses, Cruz continues to future-proof his brand — whether through maintaining a retail space digitally, or even sharing culinary content on their Instagram page. One thing is certain, it’s clear to Cruz where his priorities lie. “It’s really about the people,” he says. “Money follows.”

"Pamilya," Carl Jan Cruz's 2020 campaign featuring the designer's nieces. Photo by RENZO NAVARRO

Here, the designer shares his cooking methods, why the mornings are when he’s most productive, and how his sense of smell brings him back to the good old days.

What’s the first thing you do each morning? How does that affect the rest of your day?

I try to do some “self-care and wellness” that comes in different forms right now, from sleeping in, working out, stretching, or cooking up a slow-cooked lunch in the wee mornings to lunch time.

What time of day do you feel most productive? Why do you think that works for you?

[In the] morning, when no one’s awake yet and I can see some daylight almost coming out.

What do you enjoy most about your job? What do you find most challenging about it?

Being an employer. I enjoy nurturing and creating from my craft to having a team that fills in different aspects of a brand system.

How do you deal with distractions?

I have been cooking more and more. The process of washing and prep has been therapeutic, and cutting, peeling, grinding, [among others] has been great as a release. The cooking part’s the best form of managing anxiety — seeing things come together, balancing, seasoning, controlling the heat. I apparently tend to be a very systematic cook: I clean as I go, I plate in between, and even wash up in order. So I guess this creates a format in my life that I can apply back into my daily routine.

Carl Jan Cruz. Photo by ERIC BICO

With regard to day-to-day challenges, do you have a ritual that helps you through it?

I spray scents these days. Apart from revisiting the enthusiasm for taste, smell has become the best way to expand my mind. It’s a flavor that doesn’t quite form concretely and lingers on the nose up to the mind. I’m able to revisit memories and perceive new ones in these times. It’s almost become ritualistic sometimes as lavish as a spritz before bed in hopes to ground me and be in a different state. (Nasomatto, Buly 1803, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, and Aesop have been my most go-to’s for the past three months.)

Are you always able to accomplish this ritual? What do you do if you aren't able to do it?

No, not really. When this tends to be unfulfilled it means I’m pretty much into these trying times which is more than half of the time. Productivity? I think it isn’t a word that motivates me, as long as I’m able to process in motion or stillness I have embraced that [it's] OK, for now.

Would you recommend this ritual to other people? Why or why not?

Surely, it doesn’t have to be limited to perfumes. It can be as gritty or abstract. I have been unearthing old papers from my time in school and [university]. I'm trying to compile it and weirdly it brings every eroding scent of these memories. [During these] times I didn’t know the presence of the smell that was there, but once I smelled them, I’m transported.

How do you unwind after a busy day?

I close my eyes.